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Head shot of State Attorney Katherine Rundle Fernandez

State Attorney Katherine Rundle Fernandez

March 23, 2020

SAO Family:

I am very concerned about your health and safety. We have already implemented a number of changes to protect you and your families.  Most staff and prosecutors are on administrative leave and working remotely. Although this presents challenges, the office continues to function and we remain committed to fulfilling our responsibilities.

Staff and prosecutors on administrative leave are expected to work from home as needed.  Prosecutors should continue preparing their cases so that they are ready to move them forward when the courts re-open and we return to normalcy.

I am particularly concerned about the small number of mission-critical staff and prosecutors who come to the office. While we have taken several steps to protect them like minimizing their need to interact with others and allowing them to park at the Graham Building, we are looking for additional ways to ensure their safety.

Support Staff

We have already implemented several procedures allowing us to place the majority of our support staff on administrative leave and operate with a “skeleton crew” of mission-critical staff physically in the office. We anticipate completing the work necessary to reduce the number of staff reporting to the office even further in the next few days.

Assistant State Attorneys

As you know, I have been particularly concerned about the risks our prosecutors face while appearing in court. I have met with the leadership in our office, as well as other stakeholders, numerous times during the past couple of weeks to identify processes to properly and efficiently handle new arrests, release offenders from custody who are not particularly dangerous to the public, and file charges timely. I’m pleased to say our hard work to accomplish these tasks has been successful.

  • Courts will continue to hear arraignments on March 19th and 20th (Thursday and Friday). Most judges have agreed to allow prosecutors to appear by telephone.
  • Beginning March 23rd (Monday), all felony divisions will be cancelled until further notice.  However, the courts will conduct bond hearings and hear critical motions involving in-custody defendants. The bond hearings will be held at 9:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., as usual, in courtroom 1-5.  One prosecutor and one Assistant Public Defender will appear in court.  In order to protect the health and well-being of the participants, building management will “deep-clean” the courtroom daily. The courts are developing a similar plan for misdemeanors, including traffic and domestic violence cases and should release it shortly.  We anticipate that those hearings will take place in courtroom 5-4.
  • Prosecutors must pre-file and e-file charging documents in new juvenile and felony cases within 18 days. We have implemented a system of video kiosks within our office and the Juvenile Assessment Center. These kiosks allow us to complete pre-file assessments during case evaluations and to record statements from victims and officers. Additionally, we have created video portals accessible via off-site computers or mobile phones to decrease potential exposure to victims or witnesses. Since activating these kiosks on Monday, March 16th, 156 civilians and police officers have successfully used the system. We expect this number to rise due to its ease and efficiency.  We have also established procedures allowing felony prosecutors to pre-file cases involving adults via telephone or video conferencing.
  • We have established a procedure enabling prosecutors to no action cases prior to arraignment.

Every prosecutor on administrative leave has a laptop and the ability to telecommute.  We expect them to continue preparing their cases, handle any matters that may arise, keep their cell phones on, check emails regularly, and be responsive during normal working hours.

Next Steps

The situation obviously is very fluid. We remain committed to adapting our policies and procedures to meet our collective needs and to keep you safe as the situation develops. Please check our website at least once per day so that you don’t miss any updates.

My Sincere Appreciation

I would like to thank the Administrators and Chief Assistants who developed the processes to make these advancements possible and the many staff members and prosecutors who enabled us to fulfill our responsibilities to the public during this transitionary process.

I also appreciate your patience and support. My Leadership Team and I have been overwhelmed by the generous “team spirit” we have observed and felt from all.

Thank you for everything and God bless

 

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